Western Province sent out an ominous warning while the unheralded but dashing Border Country Districts team stole the show on an action-packed opening day of the 2008 Coca-Cola Under-13 Craven Week at Paarl Gymnasium.
There were also wins for Border, Zimbabwe, the Blue Bulls, Valke, Limpopo Blue Bulls and KwaZulu-Natal as the 37th edition of the prestigious primary schools' week unfolded in perfect weather, and in front of a large crowd.
Free State and Boland were the big disappointments, losing their matches to the lesser fancied Pumas and Valke respectively.
Border (7) 12 Griquas (0) 5
Border fullback Thabani Mgugudo had the honour of scoring the first points at this year's Coca-Cola U13 Craven Week when he scythed through a gap against Griquas to score a try under the posts, which he also then converted himself.
Thereafter it was end-to-end stuff as the two sides took turns to lay siege on their opponents' line, with only excellent tackling preventing any further scoring.
Border sealed the match midway through the second half when flanker Lilitha Jonas broke away to dive in at the left-hand corner to make it 12-0.
Griquas, to their credit, never gave up and were rewarded with a try by lock Darryn Bronn to cut the deficit to seven points, but try as they might they could not break down an obdurate Border defence as the clock wound down.
Zimbabwe (0) 5 Namibia (0) 0
Daniel Moolman was the hero for the popular Zimbabwe team when he scored a dramatic try in injury time to see off a gallant Namibian team in the second match of the tournament.
Coach Steve MacDonald's boys produced some good rugby, with beanpole lock Matthew Moodie showing off impressive handling skills, his fellow forwards foraging well, and the Zim backs showing that they, too, weren't afraid of doing some of the dirty work when the ball went to deck. However, a tenacious Namibian defence ensured a nailbiting finish to a match that looked set to end in a scoreless stalemate.
Blue Bulls (12) 24 Eastern Province (7) 14
The boys from Pretoria held off a spirited challenge from an enterprising EP team to run out deserved victors in the first match of the day on the main field.
Spurred on by a large contingent of travelling fans, the Bulls, captained by No 8 Nardus Erasmus, raced into an early 7-0 lead that was cancelled out almost immediately by a well constructed EP counterattack.
The Bulls scored their second try midway through the first half only to see their lead vanish again when the boys from Port Elizabeth scored a converted try shortly after the break to lead 14-12.
Big Bulls right wing Johan Gouws then barged his way through to give his side the advantage once again with flyhalf Marno Prinsloo adding the extra points.
With time running out, and EP throwing everything into attack, the Bulls managed to seal the match when substitute Dale Hendricks broke away from a maul to give his side a 24-14 victory.
Border Country Districts (26) 26 Griffons (0) 0
Border Country Districts scored four tries in a scintillating first-half display of running rugby to totally outclass an outgunned Griffons team.
Coach Sizwe Sodinga's side easily produced the most attractive, 15-man rugby of the opening day by some distance, with speedy wing and man of the match, Tshisa Ande, grabbing a brace to go with further tries from centre Pori Wangela and lock Malu Buyile. Flyhalf Gwavuma Lungile added three conversions as the boys from the Eastern Cape raced into a 26-point halftime lead.
Border CD were well drilled in the basics and played with no small measure of panache as they showcased their running skills and pace around the park, although over-elaboration probably prevented them from adding to their score in the second half. It will be interesting to see them play against some tougher opposition – we haven't heard the last of these enthusiastic and skilled youngsters.
Tighthead prop Dlanaye Sinethemba and flanker Makongolo Siphelo had outstanding matches up front while Ande, Wangela and fullback Sweya Onele had far too much gas for their opponents from the Northern Free State.
Mpumalanga (17) 22 Free State (0) 7
The young Pumas caused a minor upset against their more fancied opponents when they scored three first-half tries to lay the foundation for a deserved victory.
Man of the match, lock Alpheus Mbata, flanker Waldo Morris and fullback Sibusiso Dlamini touched down with scrumhalf Rowan Gouws converting Morris's try to give the Pumas a 17-0 lead at the break.
The crowd expected a Free State revival but the young Cheetahs spent much of the second half as they did the first: tackling their hearts out but unable to stop the grey, red and black tide. Mpumalanga centres Michael Nkosi and Sandile Sibane were especially prominent on attack and, together with Dlamini, they terrorised a hesitant Free State back division with their incisive running and confident drawing of the man.
Prop Pieter van Dyk scored the Pumas' fourth try shortly after the restart to extend the lead to 22-0, before Free State finally grabbed a consolation try through replacement forward Wesley Smith. Fullback EW Viljoen added the two points but it's back to the drawing board for the boys from Bloem.
Boland (0) 0 Valke (5) 19
As a spectacle, this was probably the worst match of the day but somehow it still managed to produce one of the best tries of the tournament so far.
Boland, like Free State in the previous match, were a huge disappointment against a well-drilled Valke team featuring a very physical pack and, somewhat surprisingly, more speed to burn out wide than their Winelands opponents.
The match was a stop-start affair that featured more kicking – and more penalties awarded by the referee – than the previous five matches combined.
Falcons centre Ruan Neethling was responsible for the game's most memorable moment when he rounded off a full backline movement in the first half that had the crowd on its feet and revealed huge cracks in the Bolanders' defensive lines: they were too easily exposed when turned by the boot of Falcons flyhalf Arno Kotze and dropped easy passes just when there was a hint of something about to happen. Unluckily for them, nothing of any note materialised. But they will be back.
Limpopo (6) 19 South Western Districts (10) 10
This game was shaping up to become a kicking duel between Limpopo's tough inside centre, JP van Wyk, and the young Eagles' flyhalf, Arno Moolman, before SWD struck just before halftime with a good try from their centre, Warrick Gelant.
The first half saw the two kickers trade penalties before Van Wyk gave Limpopo the lead with a well-struck penalty that soared through the uprights.
Gelant then grabbed his opportunity when a gap opened up and he raced in under the posts for Moolman to convert and give his side a four-point lead at the break.
SWD fell away badly in the second half however, allowing the Limpopo side to score 13 unanswered points via two tries from flanker and man of the match, Thapelo Rapelwana, and a penalty from Van Wyk, who marshalled his troops well from midfield.
Golden Lions (3) 11 KZN (3) 24
A heavyweight clash that failed to reach any great heights in the first half. The second half was characterised by the overly physical approach of two dour but admittedly well-drilled sides.
KZN scored three tries to one, and on the evidence of this match it they are going to take some stopping. But that's not to say they play very pretty rugby – contrast their approach to the highly-skilled Border Country Districts team and you are left with the impression that the young Sharks are a side who should be left to play off the cuff more – after all, this is not senior rugby, and yet they played like a senior team: to the point of being overcoached. Their play was full of elaborate set moves that didn't come off, and, sadly for a bunch of young boys, without much adventure. But they will take some stopping, of that there is no doubt.
KZN got their points through a penalty try as well as touchdowns by man of the match and No 8 Guy Francis, easily the best back-rower on show on the first day, and centre Sfundo Mhlongo.
Flyhalf Nkululeko Mcuma kicked well, slotting a penalty and three conversions, but his outside backs won't be too happy with his conservative approach, which saw him ignore a number of overlap opportunities in favour of dropping ball onto boot.
For the Lions, fullback and captain Innocent Radebe scored a fine try, with flyhalf Muller Brink kicking two penalties. The boys from Gauteng are better than the scoreline suggests, and won't go through the week winless.
Western Province (8) 30 Leopards (0) 5
The home side scored five tries, three of them to quicksilver left wing Tiano Fortuin, as they sent out an ominous message to the other teams who will face them at this year's Craven Week.
Province raced into an 8-0 halftime lead thanks to Fortuin's beautiful in-out sprint to the left-hand corner, and a penalty from centre Darren Papier.
Indeed, the back three of WP accounted for all the tries, with fullback Dylon Fairbridge and right wing Dilan van Wyk also showing their great pace in crossing for five-pointers.
The WP brains trust will be happy with their team's opening-day performance, but will caution against overconfidence as they played a Leopards side that was one of the more average teams at the tournament.
The Potch-based team did however manage to get on the scoresheet when No 8 Tiaan Bezuidenhout flopped over from a driving maul, but by then Province were well and truly out of sight at 25-5.
Fortuin's final flourish earned him his hat-trick and the man of the match award, a decision none of the few thousand people lining the field would have complained about.